We're all at risk from cyber attack

Cardin: Legislation would set minimum standards for computer security

December 14, 2010|By Benjamin L. Cardin

Millions of Americans, and more than a billion Internet users worldwide, depend on the Internet's speed and accuracy for commercial, financial, personal and governmental transactions. Unfortunately, too few of us are fully aware of the dangers we face from computers and other devices that connect to the Internet.

As a result, we are all at risk. Cybersecurity is more than just about cyber crime. Cybersecurity has become an urgent homeland security issue because computer networks, critical infrastructure and key resources of the United States are at risk of being compromised, disrupted, damaged or destroyed by cyber terrorists, cyber criminals or spies.

Last year, as chairman of the Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, I chaired a hearing on "Cybersecurity: Preventing Terrorist Attacks and Protecting Privacy in Cyberspace." It was both illuminating and frightening.

Computers and other devices that connect to the Internet are the prime targets of cyber terrorists and criminals who want to steal, disrupt and create confusion that could shut down major financial and governmental networks. Everyone who relies on the Internet is vulnerable to cyber criminals.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in 2008 a transnational crime organization used sophisticated hacking techniques to withdraw more than $9 million in less than 12 hours from 2,100 automated teller machines in 280 cities around the world, including the United States, Russia, Italy, Japan and Canada. The FBI also shut down another online criminal enterprise in which more than 2,500 people were involved in buying and selling stolen financial information, including credit card data and login credentials. Additionally, the FBI worked with Egyptian law enforcement authorities to bring down a transnational crime ring that engaged in computer intrusions, identity theft and money laundering.

Cyber crime is serious business, and the people involved are no longer 15-year-old hackers in their parents' homes. The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center, known as IC3, is the leading cyber crime incident reporting center, and it received more than 275,000 complaints in 2008 alone. Cyber crime is increasingly being adopted as a profitable component of violent, organized, sophisticated and well-financed crime rings.

We need to act to prevent Internet catastrophes before they occur. On Dec. 9, I introduced the Internet and Cybersecurity Safety Standards Act, which would require the government and the private sector to work together to develop minimum Internet and cybersecurity safety standards for users of computers and other devices that can connect to the Internet. Just as automobiles cannot be sold or operated on public highways without meeting certain safety standards, we also need minimum Internet and cybersecurity safety standards for our information superhighway.

The federal government has made cybersecurity a priority. Last year, President Barack Obama appointed Howard Schmidt as the White House cybersecurity coordinator to make sure that all agencies are working together to meet this critical challenge. Earlier this year, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that cybersecurity would be one of the department's five core homeland security missions.

These are all positive steps, but my bill recognizes that we need to do more to improve the safety of government computer systems as well as computer networks, critical infrastructure and key resources that are controlled by the private sector.

We are now part of a global digital network, and it's critical that we take the steps that are necessary to protect all forms of information sharing. In an era of ever-growing and new cybersecurity challenges, we need to get everyone to work together to secure our nation's digital future.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin is a member of five Senate committees: Foreign Relations; Judiciary; Environment and Public Works; Budget; and Small Business and Entrepreneurship. His web site is cardin.senate.gov.

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